APPENDIX 67
Memorandum from the London Mathematical
Society
The London Mathematical Society welcomes this
opportunity to bring to the attention of the Science and Technology
Committee the continuing erosion in the national mathematics base,
particularly in universities. Mathematics underpins the sciences,
engineering and business—the loss of the UK's mathematics
base critically weakens the very areas on which our wealth and
health depend.
The London Mathematical Society is the UK's
learned society for mathematics. Founded in 1865 for the promotion
and extension of mathematical knowledge, the Society is concerned
with all branches of mathematics and its applications. It is an
independent and selffinancing charity, with a membership of over
2,600 drawn from all parts of the UK and overseas. Its principal
activities are: the organisation of meetings and conferences;
the publication of periodicals and books; the provision of financial
support for mathematical activities; and contributing to public
debates on issues related to mathematics research and education.
It works collaboratively with other mathematical bodies worldwide.
It is the UK adhering body to the International Mathematical Union
and is a member of the UK Council for the Mathematical Sciences,
which comprises the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications,
the Royal Statistical Society together with the London Mathematical
Society.
The importance of mathematics in underpinning
the physical and technological sciences is wellknown; there is
a welcome growing awareness that it plays the same fundamental
part in the life sciences, in the economic and financial sciences,
in the social and health sciences. The need of a healthy economy
for an increased flow of persons with good mathematical skills
has been recognised in the Roberts Report, in the Government Response
to it and in its subsequent Science and innovation investment
framework 200414. Concerns about the health of the subject in
school have led to a programme of reform based on the recommendations
of the Smith Report. The needs and reforms identified by these
inquiries require a strong and diversified mathematics presence
in the HE sector. This cannot be achieved without strategic and
coherent use of funding and other mechanisms to fulfil the accepted
national needs.
The erosion of national provision, through the
closure or merger of departments, recently headlined in the case
of chemistry at Exeter, is by no means new but has been proceeding
in many areas of the physical sciences and engineering, not least
in mathematics. The Council of the London Mathematical Society
has been extremely concerned at this loss and, in the last few
years, has made representations to the ViceChancellors of universities
where the Society has heard that such losses are under consideration.
Seven universities have been contacted over the past three years—an
outline of the situation at one of them (Hull) is attached at
Annex A. The Society drew up a Statement of Policy on Mathematics
in Universities, which is attached at Annex B.
The following response is aligned to the points
identified in the Select Committee's call for evidence (Annex
C)(Not printed). References are at Annex D.
The impact of HEFCE's research funding formulae,
as applied to Research Assessment Exercise ratings, on the financial
viability of university science departments
Decisions on closure of departments are the
responsibility of individual institutions; but such decisions
are largely determined by the funding mechanisms and formulas
adopted by HEFCE. The way in which these are operating are particularly
damaging to mathematics departments, and the health of UK mathematics.
Mathematics, requiring primarily "people" costs, is
disproportionately dependent on the funding councils, compared
with the other sciences and engineering which draw heavily from
the research councils.
There is a fundamental lack of transparency
which frustrates rational planning: the relationship between RAE
grades and funding is not known in advance. The sharp cut off
in the funding model adopted subsequent to the last exercise has
meant that university departments delivering good degree courses,
engaged in research of national importance, have been targeted
for closure. It is therefore quite possible that the intentions
of the experts on the RAE 2001 panel have been reversed, and there
is no mechanism to prevent this situation being repeated in RAE
2008.
Many university courses properly involve a serious
mathematics component. The interplay of the teaching and research
funding models encourages nonmathematics departments to teach
this material themselves, effectively using teaching money to
subsidise their research work and improve their future RAE grades.
Such changes have the immediate effect of damaging
mathematics departments in some institutions. The health of the
whole science and engineering complex is damaged by the loss of
mathematicians and their contributions. These changes are often
made without reference to the immediate or longterm needs of
the students.
The desirability of increasing the concentration
of research in a small number of university departments, and the
consequences of such a trend
The desirability of concentration will vary
from subject to subject; the model appropriate for subjects requiring
access to large and expensive specialist equipment is inappropriate
for mathematics. While mathematics is no longer dependent (if
it ever was) just on pen and paper, the usual expensive facility
needed by mathematicians, highpower computing, is a resource
shared with other subjects. The critical mass needed for successful
collaborative mathematical research is not great, and collaborations
can flourish without physical proximity.
An increased concentration of research in a
few departments will restrict student opportunity to study mathematics
as a live subject in a researchactive department. Teaching with
conviction depends on doing one's own mathematics; when mathematics
is alive in one's own life, one can convey mathematics to students
as a living subject, not a set of dead and boring rules from the
past.
Concentration, moreover, will damage the symbiotic
relationship between mathematical scientists and other disciplines
in research. The vitality of applicationdriven research in mathematics
depends crucially on researchactive mathematicians being available.
The implications for university science teaching
of changes in the weightings given to science subjects in the
teaching funding formula
Mathematics teaching is inadequately resourced
by the current formula. The weightings stand in need of a fundamental
review; to base a revision principally on current subject costings
merely perpetuates an unsatisfactory position.
Mathematics teaching is in practice very costly
in staff time. The acquisition of mathematical skills requires
the doing of mathematics (it is not good enough for the student
to be an attentive listener and an efficient information processor).
Thus, in addition to funding for lectures and associated informationtransfer
activities, extra funding is required to pay for the essential
learning structures in which students learn to do mathematics
themselves, not merely see it being done. Such intensive teaching,
with a high staff: student ratio, is the mathematical equivalent
to the science or engineering laboratory.
The mathematics community has welcomed the broadening
access agenda; its successful implementation in mathematics requires
that resources intended to support these students are expended
on subjectspecific support.
The optimal balance between teaching and research
provision in universities, giving particular consideration to
the desirability and financial viability of teachingonly science
departments
Mathematics is an evolving subject, and honours
mathematics degrees are properly taught in researchactive departments
where mathematics is being done. We reiterate two earlier points.
First, a good mathematics programme can be taught by a collection
of mathematicians with different research areas; there is no essential
need for large numbers in every area (a model promoted by the
research funding formulae). Second, there is no essential need
in practice for concentration of mathematics departments—it
is neither desirable nor necessary to have teachingonly departments
in regard to honourslevel courses.
Moreover, even those universities not teaching
mathematics at this level will need mathematicians to support
research and teaching in other courses and departments.
The importance of maintaining a regional capacity
in university science teaching and research
There is a pressing need for widened participation
in mathematics courses, from single honours to joint and combined
degrees which provide solid mathematical understanding to areas
of application. This can only be achieved by ensuring that there
is access to mathematics courses not only in all regions, but
also in a wide spectrum of HE institutions. It implies that there
is access to mathematics by mature students, those studying part
time, and by entrants from nontraditional backgrounds. Recent
HEFCE data show that several of the universities rethinking their
mathematics provision are in regions of limited access.
Mathematicians in universities offer other benefits
at a local level—for example the CPD needs of mathematics
teachers (which are highly subjectspecific) cannot be met if
there are mathematical "deserts". Regional Development
Agencies will want to have the input of researchled departments
into their strategies for local business and industry.
The extent to which the Government should intervene
to ensure continuing provision of subjects of strategic national
or regional importance; and the mechanisms it should use for this
purpose
The great technological advances of the twentieth
century have their origins in blueskies mathematical research,
with Britishbased research prominent. Our excellence, and its
farreaching but as yet unknown implications, is at threat (see
report of the recent International Review of Mathematics Research
in the UK) from a shrinking of our university base.
The UK needs to increase its output of mathematicians
and those with qualifications requiring strong mathematics skills.
Such skills are needed at all levels, in teaching, research, in
the finance sector, in business and industry. Mathematics graduates
are eminently employable in wellpaid careers. Yet the numbers
pursuing mathematics and mathsbased subjects into higher education
are falling. The Government's responses to the Roberts Report
and the Smith Inquiry have recognised the strategic importance
of mathematics.
We urgently need to increase the output of mathematics
graduates, and only through Government intervention can the aims
set out in the responses in the previous paragraph be achieved.
Two actions are needed by Government to address this shortfall.
First, the Select Committee has rightly identified
the need to address the erosion of provision in strategic science
subjects as a critical point of intervention, as this limits the
UK's potential to produce the numbers of graduates in STEM subjects
that the country needs.
Second, yet more action must be taken to ensure
that more young people enter mathematics courses in universities
in order to produce enough wellqualified people to meet national
demands. This in turn relies on having enough wellqualified mathematics
teachers in schools to motivate and develop pupils' mathematical
ability. Unless this can be achieved then the negative feedback
(fewer maths students leads to fewer maths teachers leads to fewer
maths students, etc) will result in everdiminishing numbers of
qualified people.
Possibilities to increase the pool of mathematics
graduates include: an initial injection of additional grants/bursaries/fee
waivers to encourage good students to take mathematics degrees;
additional money to support university mathematics staff to provide
CPD work for teachers both to reenergise the teachers and update
their knowledge; money to bring all teachers teaching mathematics
up to mathematics degree level knowledge (currently 30% of such
teachers do not have mathematics degrees). Money is needed to
support academics in setting up programmes to work in schools
to inspire school students to take up science at A level and beyond;
in this respect further support is needed for the schemes run
by the TTA—the SAS scheme which pays undergraduates to teach
in schools and encourages them to take up a teaching qualification
after graduation, and the UAS scheme (initially set up by Simon
Singh) which supports universities in offering accredited modules
supporting science and mathematics teachers in schools.
CONCLUSION
— The loss of the mathematics base
and of mathematics courses in universities threatens not just
mathematics itself but also the subjects and sectors that draw
on mathematics—from the natural sciences and engineering
to economics and business.
— The loss of institutions offering
good mathematics course provision (in some areas leaving "deserts")
deprives many people of the opportunity of studying mathematics
and offering their skills in teaching, industry, business and
research.
— The primary cause for this loss of
provision is the way in which funding for mathematics is provided
by the funding (including research) councils, which fails to reflect
the nature and needs of mathematics, leading to apparently "uneconomic"
mathematics departments.
— Mechanisms based entirely on student
demand are inadequate to preserve our mathematical base until
the crucial increase in numbers is achieved, other mechanisms
are needed.
February 2005
